In this interview, Albert founder & CEO Antoine Vatar explains how Arcanys’ technical expertise, problem-solving skills, and human-first approach were key to propelling their app to greater heights and improving the work of a previous agency significantly.
Wanna watch the full interview instead? Play the video below!
"We specialize in corporate software for medium to big companies with a dispatched workforce.”
Antoine, can you tell me about your company and your Arcanys team composition?
Sure, basically the business is composed of apps. We sell SaaS (software as a service), particularly two apps—iOS and Android—and a web-based management platform, plus some analytics related to the activity.
What we do is employee engagement. So we specialize in corporate software for medium to big companies with a dispatched workforce. The idea is for management to be able to develop, create, and organize libraries of content on the web as well as to be able to distribute this content to their remote teams. The teams receive the content on the app and can directly interact with it. It’s a platform that is super easy to use.
We put a lot of focus on the mobile apps’ user experience to really offer to our target audience, which is deskless employees, a very easy-to-use corporate software. Our team in Arcanys is now our full team, actually. We started working with this team, I think, more than five years ago. The entire team is from Arcanys: we have two people in charge of the mobile (one on iOS and one on Android), one for the backend, one for our CMS, one project manager, and one tester.
I believe you have a few really nice customers. Can you tell us who they are?
Oh sure, yes. Historically, we've been working with retail businesses. In the last few years, we have been working for the Richemont group. We can mention the watch brand Panerai, for instance, which is a very historical client. And we have a very, you know, strong and long-lasting relationship with them. We've been working with them for about six years, I think. More recently, we just turned to cosmetic brands like Aesop; it’s a cool cosmetic brand from Australia. We also have had big fashion companies like Saint Laurent and Dior for many years, too. So, different brands around high-end fashion, watchmaking and jewelry, historically, and now expanding to wider retail.
“The biggest challenge for me, as a non-technical and solo founder, was to be able to hire… I don't code. I can't test developers, so I don't know who is good and who is bad.”
Why did you pick Arcanys? Can you explain the initial problem that we helped you solve and how the collaboration started?
I started the first iteration of the system with an agency here in Hong Kong. It took about a year and a half to complete the first iteration, and I was very happy to work with this agency at the beginning. But then when we went into a stage of more maintenance and development, using an agency was not working anymore, which was normal. So I had a choice to either hire everyone I needed or to do outsourcing. But basically, I had to find developers. And I was in Hong Kong, and honestly, finding developers in Hong Kong is not the easiest and not the cheapest as well. Even though I was not looking for the cheapest, I was really looking for quality. And I think I was associating outsourcing with not-so-high quality... So I looked a bit everywhere and I did a lot of research around Vietnam, Thailand, India, the Philippines. And in the end, I was recommended to (check out) Arcanys via common friends.
I think the biggest challenge for me, as a non-technical and solo founder, was to be able to hire. I couldn't test anyone, you know. I don't code. I can't test developers, so I don't know who is good and who is bad. And especially at this time where it was a boom and everyone wanted to be a developer. I now realize that not everyone is a developer; you have to check some boxes. So for me, partnering with Arcanys was a contract of trust. Because I was recommended, I knew I could trust. And then, because it worked, I continued to trust. For me, it added a lot of peace of mind to know that someone is hiring developers for me, developing them continually, training them, making sure that everything is working. Knowing that if someone leaves the team, that person is going to be replaced and I don't have to stress out and say, “Oh, let's call the HR agency and pay 21% again” to find someone because I can't recruit, you know?
And once again, I'm not technical. I still don't have a technical person with me. It's very easy for us as business people to say “Okay, we can manage a team.” This team is managed, they are autonomous, and they deliver high quality products so at the moment, I would not see how to change this approach.
When we started talking, back in 2017, you still had a small team in Hong Kong with a CTO. So we started slowly with mobile development, and only after a little while you decided to trust Arcanys with your whole team. It was a bit of a two-step process, was it as I remember?
Yes, absolutely, you're right. It's been a while, wow! I had a CTO at that time and it was a hybrid. So I think you're right, the majority of developers at the beginning were in-house and the minority was within Arcanys. And in the end, I don't know how long it took but we replaced them. We still had a few developers (maybe you remember Igor working on different parts of the system?) but in the end... I think it's a real challenge to develop developers.
I remember especially the first developers we had, they were amazing. They were young developers, very willing to learn, very willing to work. And I think they were very efficient but, at the same time, they were in need of a lot of structure, which is not the role of your developers, you know, to go behind my developer's code and everything. So it was a bit difficult for me to manage, a bit complicated to offer them like a challenge and a frame. They wanted to learn. And, as a startup, we don't pay as much as banks, you know. So if you don't have the salary of what a bank can offer you, and you’re not learning something specific, you know, something new, then… that’s not interesting.
We managed to keep them for at least two or three years, I think. But in the end, progressively, replacing them in-house wasn’t making sense. So that's how, well, we came to replace everyone with you guys because it was easy... and it was good!
“If I wanted to serve my clients (without in-house developers)..., I'd better find a solution that will help me deliver the fastest.”
Yeah, I suppose one of the reasons why you were unable to manage and develop these guys is because you didn’t have a CTO so this job fell on your shoulders, and of course, it’s not your specialty.
Yeah! I mean, I had a CTO… for 4 months :D
It's funny, I think one thing that you told me when we started discussing at the very beginning was “I have no intention of working with you for a long time... But I need some help with the mobile development.” I’m glad we were able to convince you otherwise, it’s been a nice ride so far :)
Nan mais yes, definitely! You know, I think it's the vanity factor as well. When you're a CEO of a tech company, you want to have all your guys in-house. You want to see your tech team in the morning and everyone is working... But in the end, in Hong Kong, you pay a lot of money for shitty offices and it's complicated to find developers. So I realized quite well here that, in the end, if I wanted to serve my clients (without in-house developers)..., I'd better find a solution that will help me deliver the fastest. And in the end, that was you guys. So it was so complex to manage my developers. And now, even today, I would be like Urgh! I would think twice before hiring in-house resources.
So what does your organized team allow you to do? Can you go faster than you could before if you had your own team? Is it cheaper?
Yes, I think maybe it is a bit cheaper. I've been contacted by a lot of other providers for IT, and Arcanys is definitely not the cheapest. And that's not what I was looking for. I was looking more for quality, security, and also a sense of responsibility. I think today what is most convenient for me is that we can also rely on the entire organization if we have an issue. So for instance, we had challenges over integrations with external systems, risk assessments, security data questions, you know. And sometimes, your guy Eric comes in. Every time I have infrastructure or security questions, Alan tells me, “Yes, take Eric on the phone. He'll see what he can do and recommend someone else potentially to work and to help.”
So, you know, you're not just buying the time of developers; you are also buying the knowledge base of an entire company that has been working on tech development for a long time. So, it's kind of reassuring to know that whatever my question is, I'm sure someone will be able to answer it.
Regarding my team, I mean they work super well together. We're a bit sad that we don't get to see them anymore because, usually, you know, we're in Hong Kong so it's not very far, and Cebu is very nice to visit. So it’s a very nice excuse to go see you guys. But you know, in a home office situation anyway, there is no time difference, it’s the same. So they're bringing me a lot of peace of mind. I sleep well at night, you know, I know that my system is not gonna crash and if it does, someone is gonna fix it and quick, and they take responsibility for it. So I think they've been well-educated.
So do you chat with them often? Are you managing the team directly?
No, I'm not managing the team directly. Well, yes and no, actually. We don't really have a PM within the team. So my Head of Client Experience Victoire and I both manage the product (Victoire does it more with details, and me, more on a higher level). And yes, I'm in contact with my Arcanys team almost every day. We have two weekly meetings and then it's mostly Slack chats.
And you mentioned that you cannot come visit anymore because of the COVID situation, obviously. But how often were you coming? Was it two, three times a year?
I think so. I don't remember exactly. It depends on the periods because I was traveling a lot. So I wish I did it more often. But we have sent developers (some of ours) to spend a bit more time with you guys.
That's right, yeah! Was it Marcus?
Well, yeah, we had him and a few others come last time. To me, it's kind of important, still, to come and see the devs because they are really our team, you know. It's not like we have a team and a product manager talking to us, and we don't know who is actually coding. I mean, we manage the team directly. We know what they're doing. We know what they're working on. I think Harrison was the only one who left at some point. He was here at the beginning, then resigned once, and came back later.
Yeah. He left for a year but he came back.
We got him back and I'm so happy!
“I think the global outlook is peace of mind. Once again, as a non-technical founder, I need to understand that someone is really taking care of what they're doing.”
I think you mentioned this a little bit already, but do you have anything else to add on how this collaboration is impacting your business?
Yes, I think the global outlook is peace of mind. Once again, as a non-technical founder, I need to understand that someone is really taking care of what they're doing.
You know, for instance, recently one of our clients asked us about our security process. I was like, “Do we have a security process?” And of course, we do because you guys have, and that's the relationship we've built. How you handle data, how you handle security, which is the reason why we chose you. We knew you were good and professional, you know. And then, we checked the security list (I was panicking a bit) but in the end, it was all good, you know. We just went through the steps and we were like “This is good; this is good; this is good... Okay, guys, that's good!” So yes, peace of mind would be my most important gain. I think we know that they are not doing “whatever, whenever.” They are managed. They are well-trained. They know what they're doing. And we know they can ask for support when they need support. So yeah, overall, it helps me sleep at night.
Good to hear that! Last question, do you think you could have achieved the same results with in-house developers?
I think I would not be sleeping. :) So yes, maybe, but I mean, I would not take the risk now. And I would not be willing to replace my Arcanys team as well, because… Without a structure that can welcome developers properly, I would not do anything differently. So, could I have succeeded? Maybe. But when you're a solo founder with a lot of things to deal with, product is important but you don't want to spend all your time managing tech things. So if you're managing in-house, either you have a CTO, a PM, and a proper structure — and then it works — or you don’t, and it doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for me so far. But this outsourcing setup with Arcanys works, and my clients are happy.
“Outsourcing is just such a big word that encompasses a lot of different things. But in the end, I don't really consider you as an outsourcing. It's like it's our team. It's something that really belongs to us as a team.”
Well, thanks a lot! Anything you want to add before we end the interview?
I receive lots of sales outreach from tech outsourcing companies. And I think there is more than just “no outsource” and “outsource”. I think there are a lot of different models, and there is also great attention to be paid to the partner you choose, depending on the model you want to have. Working with you guys is not only just “having guys” because I could have a CTO, most of my team in-house. We chose you because there was all the structure, this support, and this quality that was ensured.
So yes, my only comment would be that outsourcing is just such a big word that encompasses a lot of different things. But in the end, I don't really consider you as a traditional outsourcing company... I mean, yes, as a partner, but not just any outsourcing firm. You are really part of our team. In addition to the skills, I think we really managed to create a spirit, something very special which makes me consider the Arcanys developers as my team, which is cool.
Looking to scale your development team with driven tech professionals, too? Connect with me and meet our software experts via arcanys.com/contact.